Edinburgh is the home of many things. It is a cultural and historical hub; it is the capital of Scotland; it is a contemporary, vibrant community with great youth culture and emphasis on arts and music. It is also home to the National Museum of Scotland – a treasure trove of ancient artefacts and precious objects set to contain a reputed 12 million items covering everything from nature, art, design, and technology.
Given its many temporary exhibitions and a wonderful rooftop terrace from where you can see the iconic castle, it’s not only the top tourist spot in Scotland, but it’s also the most popular attraction in the UK outside of London where regularly scheduled events take place that includes an interview with an astronaut or a fashion show.
The museum was formed by combining the former Museum of Scotland and the neighbouring Royal Museum to make a single museum in 2006.
Located on Chambers Street, the 8-storey National Museum of Scotland is within easy walking distance of the major tourist attractions on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile. It is open daily throughout the year except for Christmas Day and the entrance to it is free, although a donation to help support the museum is encouraged.
*Our Crossings tip: Make sure you get the sitemap of the place so that you will not miss anything that interests you. It is available on the ground floor.
Dolly The Sheep
Dolly, famously named after Dolly Parton, the American singer, was the world’s first mammal cloned from an adult somatic cell and was prominently featured in countless headlines during her lifetime.
She was cloned using a cell taken from another sheep’s mammary gland and was born in July 1996 with a white face ― a clear sign she’d been cloned because if she’d been related to her surrogate mother, she’d have had a black face. Dolly had three mothers, one provided the DNA, the second the egg and the third was a surrogate.
Dolly lived to be six when she was put down after developing lung disease and during her life, she gave birth to six babies.
City Views from the Rooftop Terrace
Edinburgh has plenty of incredible vistas, but not many are hidden right in the middle of the Old Town.
The National Museum of Scotland has been captivating visitors ever since it opened in the late 1800s, but not all visitors know about its hidden gem – the rooftop terrace. So if you happen to be in the museum, don’t forget to take the lift all the way to the 7th floor from where you can see the castle, the busy streets below and fascinating views over Auld Reekie’s rooftops.
The terrace was designed by sculptor Andy Goldsworthy in honour of Edinburgh-born James Hutton, known as the founder of modern geology.
You’ll find large sandstone blocks sitting on the decked platform and various plants along the edge of the terrace representing different aspects of the Scotlands landscape including grassland vegetation and coastal plants.
Our Crossings tip* During peak times the wait for the elevator can be quite lengthy. An alternative is to take either of the two lifts located near the Chambers Street entrance Gift Shop to the 5th floor and walk up two flights of steps.
Arthur’s Seat Coffins
One of the must-see things in the museum is Artur’s Seat Coffins.
The mystery of the 17 super-creepy miniature coffins, discovered on Arthur’s Seat, a hill above Edinburgh, in 1836 captured the imagination of many
There are many weird theories about the tiny coffins that held wooden figurines of humans, expertly carved and shaped, wearing custom-made clothing. Some people believed there may be a link to notorious killers Burke and Hare, and the burials were designed to represent their 17 victims. Others say that they were used as some sort of strange witchcraft ritual or ceremony.
The most recent theory, submitted by a Scottish- American writer called Jeff Nisbet suggests the figurines may be linked to the Radical war of 1820. Despite the continuous efforts of professors, academics and experts over the last 200 years, the puzzle remains unsolved.
Moby The Whale
One of many fascinating exhibits in the museums is the skull of the 40ft sperm whale which was found beached on the banks of the River Forth in 1997.
At the time he was the first sperm whale to be stranded in the Forth in more than 200 years.
The whale, affectionately nicknamed Moby after Herman Melville’s novel Moby Dick, struggled to survive after becoming stranded on the mud in the upstream shallows of the estuary while rescuers, including BP tugs and the pleasure boat Maid of the Forth, battled in vain to push him back out to sea. He died.
Moby’s skeleton was later donated to National Museums Scotland’s natural science collections, and his skull which weighs 1.5 tonnes now can be seen on display in the Museum.
The Lewis Chessmen
Undeniably one of the most staggering archaeological finds from Scotland, the Lewis Chessmen make the mind reel and cause theories to churn. The story goes that, in 1831, a chap named Malcolm MacLeod stumbled across 78 chess pieces. These pieces, most of which were made from walrus ivory, were lurking on the Isle of Lewis in the parish of Uig.
It is believed that they were created in Norway sometime during the 12th century. The set then disappeared and was discovered hundreds of years later in Scotland.
It’s worth noting that the original figures probably weren’t intended to be chess pieces, but various characters from the set have been assembled into a chess set and it’s become the second most popular set after Staunton as a result.
The chessmen have been studied in great detail by historians at The British Museum and also the National Museum of Scotland. The original pieces are currently split between these two museums with eleven pieces from the same find in the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland.
Natural World Gallery
If you are fascinated by animals and the natural world, then you are in for a treat.
It is said that the museum is home to approximately 50,000 mammals from the United Kingdom and across the globe which makes this gallery one of the top National Museum of Scotland highlights.
The gallery will help you to appreciate the breadth and diversity of the animal kingdom, while also helping you to understand these incredible animals. You’ll meet animals, giant crabs, and fascinating ocean creatures from every corner of the globe, including lions, elephants, and endangered species such as Ching Ching the Giant Panda and Scottish Wildcat.
One of the most amazing exhibits in the Natural World Gallery is Tyrannosaurus Rex – Over 39 feet long and 19 feet tall, the life-sized skeleton cast was taken from a discovery in Montana in 1988.
Earth in Space
Right next to the animal gallery is located Eart In Space gallery which looks at our planet and its place in the universe. Its star attraction is the Schmidt telescope also called the Schmidt camera – a huge reflecting telescope – a groundbreaking invention that allowed bigger swathes of the sky to be photographed much quicker.
As a result, the images could be used to build up an atlas of the sky.
The camera telescope was invented in 1930 by optician Bernhard Schmidt working at the Hamburg observatory.
Before its invention, astronomers were unable to capture the vast sky in great detail. They had to stitch together smaller images which was time-consuming.
Originally, the telescope – which weighs over 3.2 tonnes – was installed in the West Dome of the Royal Observatory on Blackford Hill, Edinburgh in 1951 where it was operated up until the 1970s. It was later moved from the dome at the Observatory and fitted in the Museum.
Each society in the world has its own cultural traditions that identify its heritage and makes them uniquely different. Cultural diversity is the only thing that makes us eager to know more and to unravel the mystery of the unknown culture.
And with 195 different countries in the world and thousands of different cultures, the opportunities to lose yourself in a different culture are limitless. Some of them have captured the world’s imagination in films and books, while others are mysterious and completely isolated from the modern world.
By visiting the World Cultures gallery, you can travel the world without leaving Edinburgh, and learn about unique traditional tribes and fascinating cultural differences through decorative arts, fine arts, and archaeological finds. Here you can set your eyes on the Statue of Weituo, the Qurna burial, the only intact royal burial group outside of Egypt, the Tibetan Prayer Wheel House and the Maori war canoe, known as a waka.
Other Attractions at The Museum
There are also many other sections of different categories that you cannot miss here, in the National Museum of Scotland like the Jewellery Collection from across the world from different periods of time. The Gold enamelled, heart-shaped locket set with an Onyx Cameo Portrait of Mary, Queen of Scots are some of the must-see ones. Also, the intricate design of jewellery from the Indian collection is showcased in the Artistic Legacies collection on the 5th floor of the National Museum of Scotland which belongs to the last Sikh King, Maharaja Duleep Singh.
The Millennium clock tower is also one of the must-see exhibits of the National Museum of Scotland. This clock which stands a little over 10 metres high, echoes the form of a medieval cathedral. The clock summarises the best and the worst of the twentieth century inviting mixed feelings from the spectators. The intricate construction of this timekeeper has 4 sections, the Crypt, the Nave, The Belfry and the Spire.
Each of these sections has its own story to tell and a secret to reveal too. The clock is the brainchild of 5 master makers, the furniture maker – Tim Stead, the kinetic sculpturer – Eduard Besudsky, the glass artist – Annica Sandström, the illustrator – Maggy Lenert and the clockmaker – Jürgen Tübbecke.
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Now, over to you!
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